WMU News

Storyteller weaves tale of Montgomery bus boycott

Jan. 15, 2003

KALAMAZOO -- West coast actor, playwright and storyteller Awele (ahWAYlay) Makeba (muhKAYbuh) will be at Western Michigan University Friday, Jan. 24, to perform her nationally acclaimed one-woman play documenting the bus boycott that changed the face of civil rights in America.

Makeba will perform "Rage is Not a 1-Day Thing" at 2 p.m. in the Dorothy U. Dalton Center Recital Hall, followed by a question-and-answer session. The 90-minute performance is free and open to the public, and tickets are not needed. It is part of the University's annual Martin Luther King Jr. observance, and sponsored by the Department of History, the Graduate Student Advisory Committee, the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Education and the Division of Multicultural Affairs.

Makeba uses documentary theatre to examine the untaught history of the 1955-56 Montgomery Bus Boycott that has become a cornerstone of American mythology. The story is told primarily through the voice of 15-year-old Claudette Colvin, who refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus nine months before Rosa Parks was arrested for the same act. Colvin, who becomes the star witness in the federal court case eventually heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, shares the stage with 10 other characters, including Parks, Women's Political Council President Joanne Robinson and 18-year-old Mary Louise Smith. The story explores the age, race, gender and class issues that complicate Americans' understanding of the boycott.

"Awele is a superb storyteller who uses theatre as a powerful educational tool," says Dr. Mitch Kachun, WMU assistant professor of history and organizer of the event. "From a historical standpoint, everyone knows about Rosa Parks, but there are many complex stories behind the bus boycott that people just haven't heard. Her play is based on oral histories, interviews, court transcripts and biographical information. She uses this material to bring out many of the lesser-known issues that complicate our understanding of this pivotal event in the modern civil rights movement."

Based in Oakland, Calif., Makeba is an award-winning artist who has captivated audiences from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to the Whistler BC, Canada Performing Arts Series. She has performed in countries around the world, including Russia, Australia, Taiwan and France. Makeba weaves African-American history, culture and folklore through her stories and a capella songs. Her programs are designed to teach about life, character, cultural identity and pride, social responsibility and spirituality.

Media contact: Jessica English, 269 387-8400, jessica.english@wmich.edu

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